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What Makes For Good Solidarity With American Muslims And What Doesn’t?

The desire to show solidarity with American Muslims is an undoubtedly magnanimous endeavor, and while camaraderie is indispensable, especially in the face of rising anti-Muslim violence, there are expressions and measures of support, which are more immediately impactful.

Before getting into beneficial methods of solidarity, we must first examine the environment in which this solidarity functions—and why it matters.

Anti-Muslim hate crimes are on the rise

According to the latest FBI hate crime report there has been a 67% increase in hate crimes against Muslims compared to last year. Mark Potok, senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, explains that “[t]he FBI statistics show that anti-Muslim hate crimes in the United States rose from 154 in 2014 to 257 in 2015. That is the highest number since 2001.”

Campaign rhetoric, a majority of which was highly charged and hyper-focused on Muslims, played a direct role in influencing anti-Muslim discrimination and bias.

Islam is racialized, which means non-Muslims can also be targeted

The argument that followers of Islam can be on the receiving end of racism due to their religion is often dismissed outright because, after all, “Islam is not a race”—but this is where information on how racism functions is key.

Hilal Elver, global distinguished fellow at the Resnick Program for Food Law and Policy at UCLA, published a groundbreaking report in 2012 on “the racialization of Islam” after 9/11, and in it she examines how Muslims are targeted based on language markers, religious attire, and even their racial composition.

In “Racializing Islam Before and After 9/11: From Melting Pot to Islamophobia,” Elver delves into the discrimination of the Muslim, how the Arab subject is associated with Islam, the impact of racialization on immigrants, and the way in which “violent hate crimes [have] played a major role in the process of reconstructing the Arab or Muslim identity that constituted a major shift in American racial conceptualization.”

An example of how Islam is racialized is the attacks on Sikh communities by those who associate their religious attire, the “foreign” language they may use, and their skin color with Muslims, the latter of whom have been turned into nothing more than turban-wearing, dark-skinned caricatures.

Anti-Muslim violence and bias is often gendered

Because Muslim women who wear the hijab are viewed as symbols of Islam, and because of a woman’s association with vulnerability, they are often on the receiving end of discrimination and violence.

Neil Chakraborti and Irene Zempi, both from the Department of Criminology at the University of Leicester, published an essay on gendered violence against Muslim women. In “The veil under attack: Gendered dimensions of Islamophobic victimization,” the authors attack the perception of anti-Muslim antagonism as being gender-neutral.

[E]vidence suggests that there are gendered dimensions to manifestations of Islamophobia in the public sphere. Stereotypes about veiled women’s subservience coupled with the assumption that their Muslim identity cannot be mistaken, denied or concealed, renders veiled women ‘ideal subjects’ against whom to enact anti-Muslim hostility,” their abstract reads.

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So what makes for good solidarity, and what doesn’t?

First, the idea that wearing a safety pin to show marginalized people that you’re an ally, and that you’re able to provide them safety should they need it, sounds kind, but it’s meaningless beyond the feel-good impressions it provides the safety pin wearer. Also, as some have pointed out already, this gesture can be easily co-opted by, for example, literal Nazis.

It’s not enough to posture—what we need are tactics that have deep impact. So here’s some of what you can do:

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Roqayah Chamseddine

Roqayah Chamseddine

Roqayah Chamseddine is a Lebanese-American writer, published poet, and journalist, whose work can be found at Roqchams.com.